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Bridging the Cultural Divide and Living the Okinawan Culture

By: Barbara Hinman

Date Posted: 2001-01-07

It’s hard to believe we have been on the island almost a year. I remember our sponsors babbling a long list of places to eat and see, my head spinning from lack of sleep and downright fear of riding on the “wrong” side of the highway. I can’t help now but stop and think,“What else should I be doing before our time here is over?”

I’ve been on 2 trips with my husband and two boys, to Thailand and Singapore, which were wonderful. I’ve been snorkeling, fishing, and now have a favorite sushi restaurant. But I now realize the most memorable experience was much closer to home…in fact, just across the street.

My family and I lived off-base for 8 months before deciding to move onto Kishaba. The housing agent found us a single family house, in Okinawa City, near Kadena Gate 3. It was a newer Japanese style home, 2 story, with beautiful bonsai plants left for us by the owner. We had Japanese families living on each side and across the street, yet it took several weeks for us to break the ice and feel a part of the neighborhood.

It was the little boy from across the street who approached my sons while they were playing outside one day. (Pokemon cards are the international language of ALL children.) Sho Kameya, the neighbor boy, was interested in the American kids. My sons were eager to show him their toys and give him some American staples from our house—Capri Sun juice packs and potato chips. From that day, they looked forward to the end of their school day so they could play together. It made me realize that, although we were residing off base, we weren’t really allowing ourselves to LIVE in the Okinawan culture.

It started off slowly, with the giving of small gifts of chocolate and Samuel Adams, which I discovered were American favorites of our new friends. One day, Sho’s mother Sueko-san called for my older son, who somehow always understood what she was saying as she spoke only a few words of English. She asked for us all to come over to her house immediately, which we did a little nervously, not quite understanding why. Upon entering their home, we were introduced to Mamoro-san, her husband, and presented with a large spread of food from sushi to soba, and all the Orion we could hold! They had also invited some of their friends over to meet us, and we spent an entire evening sharing a wonderful meal and questions about Okinawa and America. One of the couples present, the Ireis, invited us all to their home the next weekend, again preparing a large spread of food and drink, and sharing their often funny and similar perceptions of American culture. (ie. The women blushing and saying they liked to watch Tom Cruise movies, and the men enjoying movies with Nicholas Cage!)

At the end of that evening, I will always remember what they said, raising their glasses to us and saying in English, “To family.”

We have since had Sho and his friends over to Trick or Treat, and have taken his family and friends to the brunch at the Butler O’Club. A Japanese woman who works with my husband has helped us communicate with them by phone, since we now live on base. Sueko-san said via our translator that they have always wanted to meet and have American friends, but the opportunity had never come up.

When it’s time for us to leave, which will probably come much too soon, I will take my treasures collected while living in Okinawa, including pictures and memories of a family, “our family,” the Kameyas and the Ireis.

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